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The first white visitors were by Hudson Bay Company trappers and Alexander Roderick McCloud en route to California in 1828. The second known group of travelers to come this way, headed by Ewing Young, were driving 700 head of cattle from California to Oregon's Willamette Valley. This was during the summer of 1837; and despite the crude trails, Indian attacks and other difficulties, he arrived at his destination with 600 head of the animals.
In 1846, Jesse and Lindsey Applegate and others camped here while seeking a new route to Oregon from the East; hence, the Applegate Trial. The first recorded passage of wagons through the Canyon Mountain Pass were in 1843. This trail was steep, rocky and treacherous for the wagons that were often disassembled and let slowly down the steep inclines at the end of ropes. Quite often the canyon was littered with abandoned equipment due to animals becoming very weak. The passage of the "dread canyon" on the Applegate Trial was a part of the north/south journey to be feared by most.
By 1851 a small log cabin with a dirt floor was located where 5th Street is now which became Canyonville's first store. The proprietor was Joseph Knott, whose stock consisted of tobacco, overalls and whiskey......mostly whiskey. Joseph Knott and Joel Perkins also operated a ferry across the South Umpqua calling the settlement Kenyonville.
Jesse Roberts purchased the business and property in 1858 and platted the town site and named it Canyonville. He also built a hotel and a grist mill. The first post office was established in 1852. As early as 1853 the first sawmill was in operation, manufacturing flooring for the homes of the new settlers. In 1852 a rush began when gold-bearing quartz was discovered and Congress appropriated $120,000 to build a military road from California to Oregon. The road was not completed until 1858 and built under the supervision of General Joseph "Fighting Joe" Hooker. This became the main road to California until the railroad was built.
During the gold strike Canyonville became an important weigh station and rest stop, supplying miners, fur traders and early immigrants.
Dr. Wm. F. Colvig was Canyonville's first physician and druggist. He performed his first surgery in early October 1855 on Wm. "Long Bill" Russell who suffered several bullet wounds from hostile Indians. Canyonville's first wedding took place in 1858 when Miss Phoebe Thrush became Mrs. Isaac Boyle. Lawrence Boyle, descendant of this family donated the land for Pioneer Park and also for the Pioneer Museum. The first school was established in 1863 with Binger Herman as teacher. Students included such names as Weaver, Fullerton, Gazley, Colvig, Yokum, Willis, Bollenbaugh and others whose descendants still live in the area. The Union Saloon was built in 1866 and in the 1920's the Beal Brothers built the Gray Stone Hotel. Just past (and possibly part of the same lot) was the location of the famous overland (Canyonville) Hotel where President R.B. Hays had lunch on September 29, 1880.
In 1923, Rev. A. M. Shaffer was traveling through with his family and stopped to work in the fruit harvest. He remained here and built the Canyonville Bible Academy (now known as Canyonville Christian Academy) which is still in operation today under the direction of his grandson, Roger Shaffer. Although it was not dedicated until the summer of 1876, the Canyonville Methodist Church was built sometime in the late 1860's. It is still being used today and has been placed on the National Historic Register.
Canyonville is the third oldest settlement in Oregon and was incorporated in 1901. The South Umpqua Historical Society has been successful in getting the Pioneer Museum in operation. This museum, located at 421 W.W. 5th Street offers more information about Canyonville's Pioneer of the Past.